Health

A Deep Dive Into the Clitoris

| 04/14/2021

an illustrated diagram of the clitoris Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

When it comes to the vulva’s anatomy, we’ve been given a lot of confusing—and sometimes even shaming—information. That’s especially true when it comes to the clitoris. We may have heard things like, “It’s so hard to find!” or “Clitoral orgasms are immature orgasms” (ugh, thanks for that one, Freud). 

The clitoris has a huge impact on how we’re able to access sexual pleasure, so knowing what’s actually going on with it is important. You’ve been waiting long enough to learn about this part of your body, so let’s just dive right in.

What is the clitoris?

The clitoris is a sprawling organ located within the vulva. It has a singular purpose: Pleasure. That’s it! It’s just there to help people with clitorises feel good, and in fact, it’s the only organ in the human body that is exclusively designed for pleasure. Stimulating the clitoris can lead to orgasm, and some people with clits can even experience multiple orgasms within a relatively short timeframe.

It’s a common misconception that the clitoris is a small, pea-sized nub that only exists on the outside of the body. What people are actually thinking of is the glans clitoris (which we’ll dive into more in a moment). That’s just one small section of the clitoris!

In reality, the longest total length of the clit (from glans to the end of one crus) is estimated at 7-11 centimeters long (about 2.75-4.3 inches). 

The clit is shaped like an upside-down Y, but with two sets of “arms.” 

  • The part of the clitoris that you can see is called the glans clitoris. It’s densely packed with nerve endings and, for most people, is highly responsive to stimulation. The glans is covered by the clitoral hood, which is a retractable area of thin skin. Some people prefer for their glans clitoris to be stimulated through the hood, while others prefer for the hood to be retracted.
  • Just beyond the glans is the clitoral body. Despite the name, this isn’t the entire rest of the clitoris. This is the rollercoaster-shaped slope that connects the clitoral glans to the parts that are deeper within the body.
  • Just past the clitoral body is the clitoral root. This section of the clitoris is highly sensitive to stimulation because it sits just above the urethra, right underneath the skin. You can’t see it, but you can feel it, ya know?
  • Once we get past the root, the clitoris diverges into the two sets of arms we mentioned. We’ll start with the outer set of arms, known as the clitoral crura. The clitoral crura make up the longest segments of the clitoral structure—each crus is estimated to be 5-9 centimeters long and lies (mostly) behind your labia majora.
  • The inner set of arms is called the clitoral bulbs. While the clitoral crura are slender and elongated, the clitoral bulbs are thicker, shorter, and…juicier? Each bulb is estimated to be three to seven centimeters long. The clitoral bulbs, which are also sometimes called the vestibular bulbs, are in contact with the vagina and the urethra. 

The glans clitoris has the highest concentration of nerve endings, which is why it can be so sensitive to touch. 

The clitoris is filled with erectile tissue, but that erectile tissue isn’t equally distributed throughout the entire clitoral structure. The glans has the least amount of erectile tissue, and the rest of the clit has more. That means that when someone with a clit becomes aroused, the clitoris engorges with blood. That engorgement means that the clit darkens, increases in size, and becomes more sensitive to stimulation. (Remember, though, physical arousal and sexual interest are two different things. We can never assume that someone wants to have sex just because they’re erect or wet!) 

The entire clitoris is also densely packed with nerve endings; the glans clitoris has the highest concentration of them, which is why it can be so sensitive to touch. 

That isn’t to say that the clitoral glans is the only part of the clit that feels good or can trigger an orgasm; everyone’s stimulation preferences are different, and some people may prefer that their clitoris be stimulated by massaging the labia or through vaginal penetration. 

While you may encounter statements like “the clit has 8,000 nerve endings,” we don’t actually know how many nerve endings are in the clitoris. Some people estimate that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, and others estimate closer to 15,000 nerve endings. 

Regardless, both numbers are estimates based upon studies done on mice. What we do know for sure is that the entire body of the clitoris is packed with tons of nerve endings, that it’s highly sensitive, and that different areas of the clitoral structure have higher concentrations of nerves. 

How to explore your clitoris

Sit on the floor in front of a mirror with your knees pulled up to your chest, shoulder-width apart. In this position, your vulva will be facing outward, and you’ll be able to more easily see it using the mirror. (If you have low vision or are blind, forget the mirror — sit in the same position and use your hands to explore your vulva). 

With your fingers, gently spread your labia. At the top of your vulva, you may see a smooth-skinned nub with some extra skin covering it. The extra skin is your clitoral hood and the nub is the glans clitoris. 

If you can’t see your clit that way, don’t worry! Some people may have a more difficult time finding their glans clitoris when they aren’t experiencing physical arousal. Even though the glans isn’t densely packed with erectile tissue, the clitoral body is, and the engorging of the rest of the clitoris can help the glans “stand up” a little more prominently. 

To help stimulate physical arousal, there are a few things you can try: 

Once you’ve taken a basic inventory of the many components of your vulva, use your hands (and lube!) to explore what kinds of touch feel good to you, and what areas feel best to stimulate. Remember, the clit is much more than just the glans! 

    • To stimulate the clitoral glans, use your lubricated fingertips. You might try making small circles or ovals around your clit, an up-and-down motion, or lightly rubbing your fingers side to side. Play around with the speed, pattern, and pressure to find what feels best to you.
    • To stimulate your clitoral body, apply pressure to where your labia majora meet (just under your pubic mound). Try massaging that area in an up-and-down motion or applying pulsating pressure in one spot. You can also use a pulsating toy for this!
    • To stimulate your clitoral root, use your lubricated fingertips and very light touch on your vulvar vestibule, in between your clitoral glans and your urethra. 
    • To stimulate the clitoral crura, try applying massaging pressure to your labia majora. See if you naturally gravitate toward one side or if you prefer to apply pressure equally to each labia.
    • To stimulate the clitoral bulbs, first use your lubricated fingers and massage the opening of your vagina. See what it feels like to use your fingers to enter your vagina, first using one finger, then adding more as you feel comfortable. You can also try insertable toys, like dildos or internal vibrators. When it comes to stimulating the bulbs, remember that the lower area of the vagina is going to have the most contact with the bulbs. Girth is going to have the biggest impact here! 

There isn’t any part of the clit that is inherently “better” than any other part, so let go of the voices in your head that may be saying “You should be doing it this way, not like that.” The only right way is the way that feels best to you! So grab some supplies, get cozy, and enjoy exploring the one part of your body that is designed to help you feel good.

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